First of all, I’d like to thank all the concerned readers who constantly remind me how I’m slacking off and not writing enough tasting notes. I am a bit backed up, I must confess. There has been no shortage of great wine events over the summer, albeit at a bit of a more civilized pace than the usual Fall and Spring seasons. Hopefully, I will be caught up over the next few weeks, current and ready for an amazing Fall season of incredible wine events. For those of you that don’t know, many of these events are open to the public you can check out the schedule at www.ackerwines.com/workshop. Our Top 100/All-Star weekend this October is officially sold out.
Eighteen of us gathered at the Four Seasons this past May for a comprehensive retrospective of the great Lafite-Rothschild, one of the world’ most famous wine properties. When it comes to the First Growths, my experience has led me to favor three of the ‘fab’ five. Margaux has always been my least favorite First Growth, especially when you go back further than twenty-five years. This does not mean that there are not great Margauxs that I have enjoyed, but in the context of this century, which is the active drinking pool for all of us right now, Margaux has never been at the very top of my list. Its elegant style usually has me looking for more, but perhaps the modern-day greats like 2000, 1996, 1990 etc., will deliver on their perceived promise. Lafite would be next on my personal preference list, working my way up from the bottom. Again, Lafite has also had a more elegant style over the years, and while I have had some great bottles of Lafite, mainly the 1996, 1990, 1988, 1982, 1959 and 1953s, it has just not been my cup of tea, so to speak. The continental divide forms here, and then we have Latour, Haut Brion, and Mouton. Now, it gets interesting. I know Latour can be a very strong argument, but for me at the moment, I would have to put it in third place. I know what you are going to say, and yes the 1982, 1961, 1959 and 1928 (maybe even the ’45) are amongst the greatest wines of the century, but Latour has been inconsistent and less than stellar in years it should have been great; furthermore, I have found some of the ‘better’ older Latours to not be so hot anymore, but that could always be bottle variation. So that’s that. That leaves us with Haut Brion and Mouton Rothschild, and second place is a close call over third. Haut Brion, with the 1989 cemented as probably the greatest First Growth of the modern era, along with wines such as 1928, 1945, 1955, 1959, and 1961, is my second favorite of the moment. I have found it more consistent overall, and I guess I am a sucker for Graves, as if La Mission was in this contest, it would finish ahead of Haut Brion and perhaps even Mouton. Yes, for me, Mouton Rothschild wins the blue ribbon. The 1986 and 1982 stand like bouncers outside a hot nightclub in NYC, ready to deny admittance to anyone that approaches. 1961, 1959, 1955, 1949, 1947, 1945, 1928 even and the 1945 is one of the top ten wines of the century, period. The 1947 is perhaps the most overlooked, great wine of the century as well. Every chateau has had its ‘off’ years, but if you look at the best ten wines produced by any chateau, I do not think that anyone stacks up 1-10 against Mouton. It has also been my favorite of the 1982s, although see me in twenty years, so we can actually enjoy them!
But I digress, it was Lafite’s turn at the table, and we started with the 1961, served out of two half-bottles. The 1961 has never lived up to the status of the vintage overall, so I did not think that having half-bottles here mattered that much, and besides, it was also an interesting experience. The 1961 had nice carob, nut, pencil and cedar. There was a touch of metal there and some awkward flavors that blew off. It was obviously not a great wine but still good, smooth and easy with light traces of caramel. It was good, enjoyable but unexciting (87). The 1970 had a little green and horse stink to its nose; it was definitely a dirty Lafite, one that might not be invited to the dinner table if guests were coming. The wine was smooth with good character and nice dust, earth and cedar flavors. The dirty qualities of the nose translated into game on its palate (88). The 1975 had a touch of must to its nose that lessened with time, translating into sweet soy fruit laced with brown sugar. The wine was gritty and round, yet less complex than other bottles that I have had. The palate was a touch musty as well, but its tannins were the most noticeable so far. I think this bottle was affected a little by cork issues as well as possible heat exposure, although each in a slight way (88+?). The 1976 rounded out the first flight and had a great nose full of menthol and chocolate, very Mouton-ish circa the forties and fifties, I thought. This has long been reputed to be the ‘wine of the vintage’ by many, and I could easily see why. Its rich, complex nose was supported by a smooth, chocolaty palate that was a step behind its aromatics (92).
The next flight was made up of 1985, 1988 and 1989. The 1985 had a lovely nose, almost having this exotic orange/citrus edge, along with peanut, carob, grilled meat and white flowers. This was the ‘first Lafite nose,’ Bryan keenly observed. The palate was a bit lost at the moment with little expression and definition at first. It did open up with time (91). The 1988 was excellent as always, clearly having more intensity in its nose than anything prior. Nut, chocolate, cocoa, espresso bean, alcohol and the slightest hint of menthol all graced my nose. There were good tannins and balance to the palate with lots of minerals on the finish. The wine gained in the glass. It is an excellent Lafite and perhaps the wine of the vintage (93). The 1989 had a perfumed, lavender edge with the usual carob and nut. It was very classic in many regards and quite expressive and showy at the age of sixteen. It was the most expressive so far, in fact. It had great balance and nice acidity and some additional flavors of stone and green bean (94).
We went back in time with the third flight, beginning with two bottlings of 1900. The 1900 BG bottling was a bit suspicious, a little fresher than I remembered and expected. The wine had a metallic streak as well that was unsurpassable, so I had to (DQ) it. The 1900 that was recorked by Whitwham’s smelled much more authentic. Some feel that bottles recorked by Whitwham’s are a bit unpure, and Bryan felt that this bottle had a ‘hollowed out quality.’ I found a lot of positives out of it, though, as there was lots of cedar, hay, earth and cobwebs there. The wine was smooth, soft and tasty and definitely a bit hollow, although I think most 105 year-old wines will be! It was like a frame with half a picture, but it held well to reveal lots of sand, dust, earth and desert flavors (92). The 1953 was unfortunately a bit maderized, but in that ‘second stage’ way that Roberto Conterno alluded to when we did a vertical with him this past Spring. It was affected but quite tasty, and I still enjoyed its candy corn and caramel-driven personality. However, it was not what it should have been, which is one of the most charming and seductive Lafites ever made, so even though this bottle was in the 93 point territory, it should have been 95-6 (93+?). The 1959 more than made up for the 1953. It had a spiny nose with lots of t ‘n a and a cleaner edge. There was also nut, grape and cassis – its fruit was very young and very fresh for its age, and the wine also had lots of oomph and finish, the biggest finish of the flight. There was lots of edar, earth and mineral flavors and a great, long finish. The palate was round and long and had it all fruit, finish and acid. It was an outstanding bottle (96).
From 1959 we went to 1982, and the 1982 we had seemed more Mouton or Heitz than Lafite, and Bryan noticed it as well. He went on to say how he had had it a dozen times and never like this, and I was probably the only one who could concur. The finish was enormous and the biggest of the night, and Bryan was really digging the wine, enjoying how it had ‘the yummyness of 1982’ and how it ‘may be atypical, but it’s a humdinger!’ He went on to call it the tastiest 1982 Lafite he ever had. It had big-time eucalyptus and flirted between excellent and outstanding. It is a great wine, but I am not convinced yet that it will reach that next level of greatness (95+). The 1986 had a pine sol/exotic flower tension in its nose with some other classic components on the palate but was overall disappointing. It was Lester’s least favorite of the flight, and I agreed. There were nice grape flavors and good tannins but more polished than I remember. It did kick into overdrive on its finish with time in the glass, but I need to revisit this wine again some time soon (93+). The 1990 had a beautiful nose, classic yet with good stink. This wine has always been one of Clive Coates’ wines of the vintage, and this bottle did not disappoint. The mouthfeel was rich; this was a high density wine. The palate was full of chalk, minerals, slate, hay and black fruits. It is an undervalued Lafite (95).
The final flight was composed of the ‘young bucks,’ beginning with the 1996. Now I have had an elusive ’99 point’ experience with this wine, but not on this night. It was still outstanding. The 1996 is one of my all-time favorite Lafites. ‘There’s a Lafite nose,’ I wrote. It had a touch of earth, the ‘pine spine’ and deep purple, grape ape fruit. There was also some buckwheat flapjack there, and the wine was rich and meaty. Tobacco and dirt were also present. The wine did come out a little cold and kept unfolding in the glass (96+). The 1998 gave me a first impression of earth, stink and expressive black fruits. The nose was a blend of Old and New worlds, but the palate was more Caliesque. I had flashes of Harlan and Maya without the power and balance. The wine seemed shut down with very little except tobacco and green bean on its finish. Someone said, ‘I could drink this tonight. It lacks complexity or delineation.’ Yup (90). The 1999 was more nutty with nice coffee, caramel and toast aromas. The wine was very Caliesque again. WHAT IS HAPPENING WITH MY BORDEAUX??? That’s all I am going to say on the matter. The wine was still very good but lacked oomph and verve (92). The 2000 had the most intriguing nose of the flight, eliciting an ‘Mmmmm’ out of me. The nose was very deep and layered with lots of coffee, smoke, cassis, herb, fresh green grass and great earth. The wine was long, balanced, smooth and gorgeous. The 2000 quickly put my paranoia to rest after the 1998 and 1999. Lester felt that the 1998 and 1999 were ‘overstuffed’ to make up for each vintage’s deficiencies. He also remarked how this last flight had ‘a uniformed style I couldn’t find in other flights. Admittedly, it was a closer range of years.’ I will leave you on that note.